When Chris Paul was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, all we ever heard anyone say was that he was washed, he’s too old, he’s on a decline, he’s a chemistry cancer, on and on…Only for him to come back like Jay Pritchett and someone 30 years younger than him. Not the perfect analogy, but you get the point.
The Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul trade was viewed as a simple swap of two of the worst contracts in the league. Daryl Morey (or James Harden, or Tilman Fertitta—who really knows at this point) wanted to get Chris Paul and his attitude out of Houston. Russell Westbrook was far from a perfect fit, but that’s a conversation for another time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder entered the 2019–2020 season with what looked to be the most randomly thrown together group of players we have ever seen. A giant New Zealander who looks like he could kill a bear with his bare hands; an Italian who is honestly one of the best offensive players in the league; a guard from Germany who was viewed as a cast-away; a young, promising Canadian; and a point guard who was seen by most people as washed and overpaid.
Not many people (me included) thought the Thunder were going to make the playoffs. I personally had them finishing tenth in the West, so I wasn’t too far off, but in no universe did I see them winning 44 games and coming this close to a home playoff series.
A lot of that had to do with the revitalization of Chris Paul. As mentioned before, people only wanted to bring up the negative, but never wanted to mention his nine All-Star appearances, and case to being ranked as a top-five point guard of all time.
Paul managed to secure a spot on the All-NBA second team, and almost lead the Thunder past his former team in the first round of the playoffs. If you haven’t noticed already, Chris Paul still has game!
It is extremely rare for a player to make an All-NBA team, then hit the trade block a few months later, without forcing his way out. The obvious reasoning is his contract. It’s hard to justify paying Paul a combined $85 million over the next two seasons. There are only a few players who I would comfortably give that to (Luka Doncic, LeBron James, etc.), and even then I’m hesitant.
It’s a lot of money for anyone, let alone a guy who starts this upcoming season at 35 years old. A lot of teams feel that, as much as they want Chris Paul, they shouldn’t have to give up much of an asset for him. I understand Chris Paul and his immense bag of money won’t demand a high first-round pick, but I have to believe that a player of his caliber, despite the contract, should warrant a decent return.
That brings me to a question that has kept me up at night for the past month (well, it’s either that or the countless hours of video games): Why do the Thunder have to trade Chris Paul? Sure, a complete tank for a top-end pick would be fantastic, but they’ve already accumulated approximately 500 first round picks from the Rockets and the Clippers.
I’m all good if the asset being returned for Paul is a useful one. Someone like Donte DiVincenzo, or a first-round pick would be nice! But if the asset being brought into Oklahoma City is a late-second rounder, or even worse, if Paul goes for a straight salary dump, why not just run it back?
It’s not like the Thunder were on the brink of the playoffs, and just snuck in. This team was dominant all year and nearly finished in the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. It’s easy enough to keep all your players, re-sign Gallinari to a one year deal (which it seems like he might end up with anyway) and go shock the world again.
At the very least, if the attempt at another competitive season flops, you can always trade Chris Paul at the deadline. Then, in the absolute worst case scenario where Paul looks like Michael Scott running past the speed tracker, you only have to eat his contract for two more seasons. At that point, you are paying a ton of money, but at this stage of a rebuild, that money isn’t going to go anywhere else productive. Paul can at least give you strong veteran leadership.
I really hope the Thunder don’t trade Chris Paul for the sake of trading him. In fact, I selfishly would love the Thunder to run it back. They were one of my favourite teams to watch this season. With the rise of Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley and the continued progression of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, this team has the potential to be even better.
The smartest thing for the Thunder to do is probably trading Chris Paul, as he looks like he may be the best player available in the trade market (assuming AD back to the Lakers is a done deal). But if they can’t get anything of value for him, I have to see Sam Presti as a smart enough general manager to pull in the reins, reevaluate, re-sign Gallinari, and look at competing for one more season.